The proliferation of global high-speed internet access and widespread digitization has created an environment that’s ripe for digital currency. The digital currency has been gaining traction for the past couple of years (the first digital currency is credited to American computer scientist David Chaum in 1983) but with the pandemic, there has been a massive interest and user adoption in the space. I recently wrote about digital art and NFTs, a tokenized value system that is capturing headlines with multi-million dollar art made for and in the digital realms.
Digital currency is intangible and represents an inherent value, and is frequently discussed in the form of Bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies like Ethereum, Tether, XRP, Litecoin, and Polkadot) or central bank digital currency (CBDC). Last December, Bitcoin value surged more than 40%. Corporate enterprise giants like AT&T, Overstock, Microsoft, Starbucks, and Twitch now accept Bitcoin as a payment system.
Why did cryptocurrency explode during the pandemic? The simplest answer is because cash is vanishing and being replaced by digital transactions. Tangibles are being replaced by value traded and exchanged across internet connections. Some economists claim that fear of missing out (FOMO) drove the interest in cryptos and perhaps concurrently it happens outside the bounds of the classic financial services bubble. Disruption was the theme of 2020 and money offered a new frontier of pioneering possibility.
With both large-scale and individual retail investors taking an interest, the times are irrevocably changing. What happens next with digital currency has both advantageous benefits and unique challenges.
- The democratization of money with new investment opportunities. “CBDC will likely be a game-changer, bringing about a rapid shift to the banking ecosystem as more consumers and businesses adapt to a safe and low-cost way of accruing, storing, and exchanging value,” says Dondi Black, VP, Senior Director Market Engagement and Ideation at Fis. “CBDCs will potentially reduce traditional currency on deposit with commercial banks, increase competition led by higher deposit rates, encourage innovation in saving and borrowing and create a greater risk for commercial banks.”
- Enables better record-keeping and transparency. Blockchain technology enables the distributed ledger and maintains a network consensus.
- Boosts peer-to-peer transactions and cross-border payments with instantaneous, low-cost payments.
Challenges & Current Issues
- Digital payments are transparent and visible to companies involved so there is a potential privacy issue. Helping people without bank accounts “sounds very bleeding heart, but what if the end result is a surveilled bank account system?” Willamette University law professor Rohan Grey said in a Wired interview.
- Oversight and dominion are still filled with unknowns. How the system connects to banks, digital coinage, and user adoption all need to be ironed out before digital currency were to be rolled out in mass in a scenario like government distribution of stimulus checks.
Digital currency questions and conversations around logistics and oversight are a sign that it is here to stay and will continue to grow in influence for the foreseeable future. The opportunity to exchange and trade a new currency is simply too interesting to ignore and the companies who ignore the opportunity to participate may be the ones who miss out in the long run. The pandemic has catalyzed many changes and in the process may have changed our mind as to what currency needs to look and feel like to have real and lasting value.
All opinions & expressions are solely those of the author and not those of any other individual, institution or business.